The Snapping Thragg Experiment 4 - Dissecting a Limited Matchup
Well, it's been a couple of crazy weeks.
As most of you know, I was in Vegas for the World Series of Poker and ended up doing pretty well. The online coverage basically sucked in terms of live updates and they even managed to write my name wrong in the final money winners list. At any rate, I finished 450th and it was a great experience.
The trip home however was not as great as there was some confusion with the hotel and my flight. Somehow I thought I had one more night in the hotel than I actually did, and ended up spending quite a bit of time at the airport and staying up all night. Thank God for my laptop.
Now that things are back to normal though, I have a new Snapping Thragg project that I've been itching to do.
My initial idea for this one was to construct all of the available draft archetypes in CBS and then play them against each other and examine the results. A lot of information can be gathered from this experiment such as what cards are important in what matchups, and what archetypes are naturally good against others. After some deeper thinking I decided that this would simply be too long and too much work. Since I'd be working with a larger pool of decks too, I feel that the results would likely be more watered down. The reason of course is that if I have to talk about 10 archetypes and their matchups against each other, I can't spend all day talking about just one of those matchups and hope to cover it all in one article. I know none of you are hoping to get to the end of this article and read "To Be Continued..."
So after coming to this conclusion, my new plan for this experiment was to take two of the stronger CBS archetypes and pit them against each other for closer examination. By using only two decks it allows me to play more games of the matchup, as well as possibly examining some sideboarded games or swapping cards in and out of the decks.
I decided to use U/W and G/R as the archetypes for this project for a few reasons. First, this is historically a matchup where U/W is the favorite. Due to a number of commons in this block (Matsu-Tribe Sniper, Shinen of Life's Roar, Frostwielder), I believe that G/R actually has a much better chance than it's had in the past. Second, I believe these are two of the better archetypes in the format and knowing how to play either side of it should be of help to anyone drafting CBS regularly. Lastly, I'm hoping to learn which cards in particular (besides the obvious ones) are especially good in the clash of these archetypes.
As far as what cards were used in the decks, I gathered up one of each common and uncommon for all of the colors being used, and tried to build two equally powerful decks that still incorporated most of the good commons from each of the two colors in the archetype. I tried not to use too many uncommons and also tried to spread out the cards between the three sets to make it more realistic. Granted, these decks are certainly going to be better than the average draft deck, it's worth upping the power level slightly in an attempt to find out which cards are the ones you really want in which situations. If I tried to make the decks akin to real draft decks, I'd be forced to use some suboptimal cards and I feel like I wouldn't get the maximum out of testing since it would instead be a battle of who drew their good cards. My hope is to get inside the matchup and see what makes it tick and what I can learn from it.
Before we jump into the actual games to see what we can learn, let's take a look at the decks themselves.
Kami of the Vanishing Touch
Shinen of Stars' Light
Shinen of Flight's Wings
Heart of Light
Cage of Hands
Okay, so where do I begin?
My aim here was to build a U/W deck that could withstand some of the G/R utility creatures I was going to throw at it. Namely, Matsu-Tribe Sniper and Frostwielder. In doing so I decided to include the Tallowisp engine since it would be rather pointless to construct this entire experiment and then have my U/W deck pack to a single Sniper. By giving the Tallowisp + Heart of Light package, I feel the deck at least has a sufficient chance to handle this problem. I also included Soratami Mindsweeper for the same reason, just in case the Heart of Light had to be used elsewhere and U/W was going to be otherwise blown out by Sniper.
My other goal here was to keep the deck at a reasonable power level, and I think that it has been accomplished. Sure, it's better than most of the U/W decks you can hope to draft in this format, but it's certainly not out of reach. I purposely included cards like Shinen of Stars' Light and Torii Watchward to keep the power level down. Some notable exclusions from the top U/W commons in the block are Teller of Tales, Soratami Mirror-Guard, and Kami of Ancient Law.
Shinen of Life's Roar
Elder Pine of Jukai
Kami of Fire's Roar
Oni of Wild Places
Torrent of Stone
G/R is one sleek, aggressive archetype in this format. I've never been a fan of the deck in past blocks because you usually just play guys and hope to burn your way through. This group of sets has provided such a huge amount of utility though, that you will rarely find yourself playing with creatures without good abilities.
The first decision in deckbuilding here that requires explanation is the inclusion of Ghost-Lit Nourisher. Doesn't the deck already have enough utility in the Sniper, Frostwielder, Elder Pine, Life's Roar, etc etc? I felt that this deck should have a Ghost-Lit guy as well since I put one in the U/W deck as I thought it'd be great in the matchup. Clearly this deck wasn't getting Ghost-Lit Raider (who is just an absurd bomb), so I had to at least start with the Green one. If it ends up being too much utility, I planned on removing it for a weaker card.
This deck is probably also much better than most of the G/R decks you'll draft, but I feel that it's pretty close (at least on paper) to the U/W deck and should prove to be a good matchup.
Let the Games Begin
As far as the actual games go, I was piloting the U/W deck, and Andrew Brown the G/R deck. The reason I chose Mr. Brown to help me with this is that he has a lot of experience with G/R and I felt he would probably be the best player for the deck at CMU. We decided to play 16 games and alternate who was going first. As far as the discussion goes, I am going to provide details on each game, sometimes very in-depth details and discussions on plays, as well as whatever I learned from that particular game or thoughts on the matchup as a whole.
It's also worth noting that before any of the games were played, I showed both of the decks to a couple of people at CMU, including Mr. Brown, and most everyone seemed to think that both of the decks were pretty close in power level and it should turn out to be an interesting series of games.
Brown won the flip and got to go first for the opening game. He started out with a turn 2 Orochi Sustainer and I followed with Split-Tail Miko. His third turn was a busty Kami of Fire's Roar that I'd be hard pressed to match. My turn three actually presented the first interesting decision of the game. After I played my third land, my hand looked like this..
My Board : Island, Plains, Plains, Split-Tail Miko
While this wasn't the toughest play in the world, I did have quite a few options. I immediately dismissed the Shinen since the Moonbow was just a better play since it has evasion. I could also cast the Redeemer and keep up a mana for the Miko this turn which would stop the two points from the Fire's Roar since I did have two Plains.
I ended up going with the Moonbow Illusionist, since I didn't want to have to tie my mana up this early in the game by keeping it up for Redeemer and Miko, and I was hoping to draw a land so that I could cast the Mindsweeper on my next turn. The other bonus is that I can still channel the Redeemer later if I feel like I'm in danger.
As it turns out, this play backfired as Brown played Ronin Houndmaster and bashed in with his whole team. This made it right for me to block the Sustainer with my Moonbow since trying to race in this situation would just be stupid. So it seems playing Stars' Light would've been better, but then again, I want to get my flying attacker online and he could easily just have had something to trigger Fire's Roar and keep me from blocking anyway.
At this point, I'm in bad shape, and it only gets worse when I untap and draw Shinen of Flight's Wings, missing my fourth land drop. At this point, I could play Heart of Light on one of his guys, but none of them seem like great targets. It's also a bad idea to play the enchantment on one of my own guys in this game because he can simply shut it off with his Fire's Roar. Normally Heart on something like Kabuto Moth is very hard for the G/R deck to overcome so it's worth keeping in mind. I end up just playing the Redeemer and keeping Miko up, but I'm not liking my chances.
To make a long story short in this game, I end up missing my fourth land drop for another turn or so, and he plays Gnarled Mass and eventually Ronin Cliffrider (which acquires Heart of Light), but I'm too far behind and I get run over.
The game wasn't entirely pointless though, as I realized that against the G/R build that Brown is playing, the Shinen of Stars' Light is simply useless because most of his creatures have three toughness. Fire's Roar, Mass, Cliffrider, Houndmaster, you name it.
Brown and I talk about this, and my solution is to bring a Kitsune Blademaster instead of the Shinen. It is a much more powerful card, and one that I hoped would give me a better chance against the G/R deck.
G/R - 1 U/W - 0
The second game starts out with me keeping a debatable hand on the play.
I think you can argue for keeping here or mulliganning, but the hand isn't all that bad. You have to remember too that I'm playing against G/R and Vanishing Touch and River Kaijin are both very desirable in the early game. If I draw a Plains this hand is very solid, and I didn't want to risk drawing a bad six-carder. If I mull to five I think I just lose in this matchup so I decided to gamble a little here with this hand. If you would've mulliganned it though, I can't really say I'd argue with you about it since I am only running 17 lands and I don't have any of the best cards in my deck in my hand to make me keep here (Moth, Waxmane, etc).
At any rate, my first couple draws are Kitsune Blademaster and Blessed Breath and I find myself stuck on the two Islands that I started with. Great move, Nick.
I end up making a small attempt at a comeback, until Brown abuses me with Shinen of Life's Roar, Burr Grafter, and Scaled Hulk. A channeled Shinen onto the Hulk kills my entire side and the Burr Grafter has already Soulshifted the Shinen back so it'll be ready to crush whatever I play on the next turn.
Not off to a good start here, though I did have mana issues in these first two games.
G/R - 2 U/W - 0
Brown is on the play this game, and starts off by saying that his hand is iffy and could've possibly been mulliganned. Sounds like good news to me as my hand is pretty solid.
I start out with a turn 2 Tallowisp and Brown plays a Shinen of Life's Roar on turn 3. I pass my third turn having no creature to play, but keeping up mana for Consuming Vortex and Hundred-Talon Strike, should he try to ambush my Tallowisp with the Shinen.
Instead he just plays Haru-Onna and passes the turn back to me which is slightly disappointing, because now I don't get to search with Tallowisp and it's also a bad move to bounce either of his creatures since even the Life's Roar will eventually end up returning the Haru-Onna for another card. I end up just taking my fourth turn and playing a Mothrider Samurai rather than burning off the Strike to dig up an enchantment.
This series of events ends up being really bad for me as Brown takes his turn, attacks with both creatures and channels the Ghost-Lit Nourisher on the Shinen and then follows up with a Frostling to kill both of my creatures. Haru-Onna also returns to his hand to refuel. So now that my team just got wrecked, I drop out a Torii Watchward which is promptly Yamabushi's Flamed on Brown's turn so that I have no hope of digging back my precious Tallowisp to find my Cage and Heart of Light.
I topdeck a Shinen of Flight's Wings on my next turn, but Brown again has the answer in the form of Barrel-Down and we're soon shuffling for the next game.
After another discussion about the way the matchup is playing out so far, I decide that we should take the Ghost-Lit Nourisher out of Brown's deck in favor of a Kami of the Hunt. The reason being that it seems like the G/R deck is just overpowering the U/W (granted, mana issues mattered in the first two games, but I still felt like I was just being outclassed), and I thought that it'd be a good idea to weaken the G/R deck slightly while we're still this early in the games.
Hopefully this switch will balance things out a little.
G/R - 3 U/W - 0
Starting off on the play, I have to mulligan a one-land hand into a pretty solid grip of the following.
The game starts off with a Sakura-Tribe Elder from Brown, and Waxmane on turn 3 from me. After Brown plays Gnarled Mass on his turn, I have to decide whether to play Kitsune Blademaster or Kabuto Moth on my fourth turn. Normally this wouldn't be that tough of a decision and I'd want to get the Moth online ASAP, but the problem is that I've only drawn one Plains so far and three Islands. This means I can't cast the Moth and keep up a mana to protect with Blessed Breath. I end up playing the Blademaster which gets Barreled Down and Moth bites it to a Torrent splicing Kodama's Might shortly after. I still hadn't drawn another Plains at that point or I may have been in slightly better shape. I also had Hundred-Talon Strike in my hand most of the game, and the deciding factor here was that I couldn't draw another Plains to get all of my stuff online.
So after what seemed like a very promising opening hand, I am again crushed under an avalanche of quick creatures and burn.
G/R - 4 U/W - 0
This game was relatively short and uninteresting.
In case you hadn't already figured it out, I got my head kicked in again. An early Shinen of Life's Roar combined with Gnarled Mass and then eventually Serpent Skin made sure I wasn't blocking for the remainder of the game and a Ronin Houndmaster showed up to hasten my demise. I played a few good creatures like Shimmering Glasskite and Mothrider, but they were no help against the regenerating Lure.
After this game, I decided some more changes were in order since I was still getting blown out by what looked to be an equally potent deck.
I ended up upgrading the Hundred-Talon Strike to Terashi's Verdict as well as upgrading the Hundred-Talon Kami to Kiri-Onna. I felt that these two cards would really add to my deck and hopefully give me a fighting chance in what has otherwise been a massacre.
G/R - 5 U/W - 0
On the play I keep a solid opening hand of:
Heart of Light
Brown starts with Elder and then Torrent my Moth on his fourth turn. Things are going as expected so far.
This time, however, my Cloudskater is actually getting some damage in while Blademaster is doing a good job of holding off his Gnarled Mass and Orochi Sustainer. I get to five mana and play my fresh addition to the deck, Kiri-Onna which draws a grown from Brown. He replays it with Haru-Onna on his turn, but for once I actually feel like I'm in control of the game. The next few turns a Shimmering Glasskite and Kami of Fire's Roar are added to the table as I press my advantage.
As I'm getting through for damage in the air, I continue to fortify with Moonlit Strider and by replaying the Kiri-Onna. Not even the ever powerful Sniper is a problem for my Glasskite, but I Heart of Light it anyway so that Brown can't turn off my shield with the Fire's Roar and slow down the beats for a turn with the Sniper. Glasskite ends up going all the way from 14 to 0 and I've finally won a game.
I guess all it took was the addition of some great uncommons to beat a G/R deck full of mainly commons!
G/R - 5 U/W - 1
Andy starts with Frostling on the play and follows it with Sniper and Elder Pine of Jukai. Quite the daunting draw for my U/W deck, which can't exactly deal with activated abilities well. Thankfully I have my Tallowisp and a Kami of the Vanishing Touch to fetch up Heart of Light and put an end to the Sniper's games.
The game ends up stalemating for the first time so far and Elder Pine starts going to work. By the time the Pine has removed all but one of the Lands from Brown's deck, it's starting to look really bad for me until I rip Mindsweeper and mill Brown out in two turns.
Again saved by a Blue uncommon.
This time I decide to swap out the Vanishing Touch in favor of the less attractive Minamo Scrollkeeper. My logic of course being that I didn't want to have too many uncommons in my deck or it could start to skew the results. I still wasn't ready to take the Kiri-Onna or Verdict back out yet though, as I thought I'd just start losing again.
G/R - 5 U/W - 2
Even though I'd just won two games in a row, I still felt like I was in bad shape in this matchup as I think that the G/R cards are just so much better than the U/W ones overall. Had I not drawn the Mindsweeper there was no way I could beat a guaranteed spell every turn from Brown's deck after all of the land was removed.
I keep a not-so-great hand for this game, with five lands, Moonbow Illusionist, and Kiri-Onna.
Again Brown starts with the Frostling and Sniper and this one is looking like a blowout already. He does give me a slight glimmer of hope though when he forgets for a moment about the Terashi's Verdict I just put into my deck and walks his Sniper right into it.
As a quick aside, if you are the G/R player in a normal draft in this spot, I'd be very careful about attacking with your Sniper. Now that Spiritual Visit is in the cardpool, even a lone White mana being untapped could mean you lose one of your most valuable resources in the matchup by trying to get one extra point in. My advice is to be careful about when to attack with the Sniper. Also keep in mind that many people don't like Heart of Light and therefore won't have a maindeck answer for your Sniper, so it becomes even more imperative that you keep him alive and don't walk into a trick.
Getting back to the game, Brown played Elder Pine and Frostwielder over the next couple turns making my chances of winning even worse than before. I tried to stabilize by bouncing the 'Wielder with Kiri-Onna a couple of times but he just added an Oni of the Wild Places to the table. Somehow I ended up staying alive for a while and drew my Mindsweeper to give myself some hope of winning.
Unfortunately, when I had him milled down to about 14 cards left in his Library, he drew the Shinen of Life's Roar that I was worried about and I had no Consuming Vortex for the save. Beaten again by that stupid card. And to think people say that Sniper is the best card you can have against U/W.
GR - 6 UW - 2
Brown is on the play again and this game starts out with Tallowisp and Kaijin for me and Life's Roar (again), and Elder Pine for him. This time though I feel like I have a good chance of winning as I manage to get a Kabuto Moth into play, untap with it, and then cast Heart of Light on it. This effectively nullifies the army he creates in addition to my usual slew of 1/4 ground dorks.
I really can't stress enough how much of a necessity Heart of Light is for the U/W player. Many people dislike the card because Gaseous Form was never good in the past. Trust me guys, this card has enough uses that you'll be grateful you have it when your opponent slaps down that Ghost-Lit Raider or Sniper. The nice thing is that it works well on your own creatures to stop superior ones too, or to keep alive something like the Moth and make it virtually indestructible to the G/R player.
This game turns into another stalemate after he draws his Sniper and gets Elder Pine going with Haru-Onna and Oni of the Wild Places to help out.
I still feel like I'm in good shape this game as I have his Life's Roar under Cage of Hands. The problem is that I keep drawing lands and I can't help my board position at all so we're basically sitting around waiting to see if he can win before he decks himself.
Who am I kidding, see if he can win? Of course he can. On one of my end steps, after I draw about my 15th land of the game, Brown casts Barrel-Down on his own Shinen of Life's Roar that is Caged (and I return Cage of course), Torrents his own Elder Pine of Jukai to Soulshift back the Life's Roar and then untaps for his turn.
Did I mention that I was at 34 life and he channeled Shinen onto a dork and hit me for 40 with Sokenzan Spellblade? Well, he did. And I couldn't do anything to stop it.
G/R - 7 U/W - 2
Games 10 - 16
By this point I'm sure you're getting tired of reading the blow by blow coverage of these games and would instead like to hear what I actually have to say about these archetypes and what you can possibly use in your own drafts.
First off, nothing spectacular happened in the last bunch of games, though the final record was 12 - 4 in favor of the G/R deck by a mile. So what exactly does this mean to you, the aspiring drafter?
Clearly this block is different from the past if G/R is stomping all over the U/W decks. It may seem like the U/W deck was just outmatched, but honestly take a look over the listing of cards and I think you'd be hard pressed to make a better 40 card deck while keeping the power level in check. The U/W deck is very solid and one I'd be very happy with in a normal draft, and I think the difference here is that the G/R cards are just stronger than usual this time around. G/R no longer rolls over and loses to something like Mystic Zealot - it actually has the tools to deal with whatever problem comes along.
In my opinion, most of this shifting in card strength is thanks to a little 1/2 called Shinen of Life's Roar. I'd say this is the single most important card for any aggressive Green deck and anyone taking Elder Pine over it in a quick attack deck is definitely making a mistake.
If you read back over the games coverage, the matchup is not all about "Sniper or No" as many people have suggested previously. If anything, I'd say Shinen is more influential.
I want to take one final look at each deck and what you can possibly learn from this experiment to take with you to the actual drafting table.
Like I said above, your main concern here is having a Heart of Light for the Snipers, Frostwielders, etc that are out there. Not that you should go taking it early or anything, I guarantee that you will pick one up late. If you're worried about creating the infinite blocker should you have to put it on something like a Dragon, be consoled with the fact that you will have many ways to get around the card such as Waxmane Baku, Minamo Sightbender, or even just a bounce spell when you're ready to alpha strike. I like to make sure I have a Heart of Light in most White decks.
In the game coverage above, it seemed like Kiri-Onna really helped turn the tide a little in the matchup, and I think it's also a card that people are still underrating. The Onna is definitely better than all of the Blue commons save possibly the Shinen of Flight's Wings and is especially important in the matchup against G/R as you need a way to keep their fatties off the table long enough for your fliers to do their job.
As far as everything else goes, make sure you can stall the ground against an aggressive deck like G/R, and combat tricks certainly can't hurt. If you do end up getting paired against a G/R deck in a draft, just remember that you're probably the underdog if card quality is equal, so you just have to hope your cards are better, your opponent makes mistakes, or you just get better draws than him. In any case, it's not a matchup where I'd like to be on the U/W side anymore. This was my theory before I did this project and the evidence here has only cemented that idea further.
You should be very happy to be the G/R player in this block especially if you picked up a Life's Roar or two and hopefully a Serpent Skin. Anton Jonsson mentioned in his last article how good Serpent Skin was and how you should be picking it higher, and I really couldn't agree more. What could be better than to make the insane Life's Roar able to attack every turn?
As far as other cards that should be picked highly for this archetype, I think Burr Grafter is top notch now with the great Soulshift target in the Life's Roar. I still think Spellblade is overrated, especially here where you have better options in fatties, so I'd take something like Drillmaster over him since you know you get a lot of mileage out of a turn 3 Drillmaster in a deck full of men that can't wait to attack.
Hopefully this was as interesting for you guys to read as it was enjoyable for me to do. It's always a nice feeling when your theories are proven by actual testing. Even though this was a small sample size of games, I feel like I would still be in bad shape no matter how many games we played unless I drastically changed my deck and made it much better than the GR one. The way it is, G/R is a big favorite in this matchup when everything else is equal.
I think it's helpful to know where you stand as well should you encounter this matchup in one of your drafts, even though the card quality will be different in all of those cases.
Until next week...
Soooooo & ThatsGameBoys on MODO